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I am a high school English teacher in an urban high school in Oklahoma City. I am a member of the American Federation of Teachers, Local 2309. I am a Democrat, a union activist and a worker for social justice. I also am a Christian (Congregationalist). I play chess and coach our school chess team.

Monday, March 14, 2011

My Review of "Endgame" by Frank Brady

Endgame: Bobby Fischer's Remarkable Rise and Fall - From America's Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of MadnessEndgame: Bobby Fischer's Remarkable Rise and Fall - From America's Brightest Prodigy to the Edge of Madness by Frank Brady

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fascinating and balanced account of America's greatest chess master.

Two things are undeniable about Bobby Fischer: 1) He is the greatest American chess player of all time, perhaps the greatest anywhere, though I cannot state that categorically. 2) He was a deeply self-centered man who believe that his genius gave him entitlement to say and do whatever he pleased. This book explores both aspects of Fischer. And while it becomes at times too apologetic for his egotistical, paranoid, self-destructive behavior, Frank Brady pulls no punches in describing Fischer's dark side while acknowledging Fischer's genius.

What to make of Bobby Fischer? As some have pointed out, we regularly overlook the negative sides of many fellow geniuses to enjoy what they have produced. I enjoy the music of imperfect me like Beethoven and Wagner. I appreciate the art of Paul Gaughan knowing how he exploited women. I enjoy the movies Eliz Kazan while deploring his betrayals before the House Committee on Un-American Activities.

Do I put Fischer in this group of people who were great artists, but flawed humans? Yes and no.

Yes, I do believe that Fischer was a genius who produced the type of beauty Marcel Duchamp saw in chess, but I believe that Fischer's ability to play a game does not entitle him to anything but condemnation for his insenstivity to other people, his persecution complex, and his ungracious behavior to any who displeased him in the slightest.

I read one time that, "while gratitude may be the humblest of virtues, ingratitude is certainly one of the worst of all vices." I believe that Fischer's worst vice was that he could not see past his own, largely imagined hurts and attacks.

For me, this taints Fischer's remarkable accomplishments on the board.

And even though he was a great genius at it, he still was playing a board game. Would I seek to mitigate this behavior in someone who played checkers, parcheesi, or mahjong? I would not, and I cannot forgive Fischer for believing that his ability to play a game played by young children made him any better or any more entilted that the rest of us.

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